The Michigan Wolverines have gotten through a tough non-conference slate unfazed. With Big Ten play beginning in 2013, the Wolverines would love to finish with a bang.
They’ll get their chance in Brooklyn in a neutral site matchup against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Bob Huggins’ team, though, still has much to prove in this early slate of college hoops.
The Mountaineers have looked outmatched and out-muscled against supposedly inferior competition. After disheartening losses to Duquesne, Davidson and Oklahoma, Huggins’ players could use a pick-me-up against the No. 3 team in the country.
This pairing was thought to be a prime time Top 25 slugfest in Brooklyn. Only one team may have the ranking, but these two coaches assure quality play in a nationally televised game.
Consider this to be your guide to Saturday's matchup in Brooklyn.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NY
When: Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8:00 pm EST
Live Stream: WatchESPN
West Virginia Injury Report (via USA Today updated 12/13):
Michigan Injury Report (via USA Today updated 12/13):
What’s at Stake?
The Wolverines have earned their No. 3 ranking after a few nationally-televised wins over N.C. State and Arkansas, but will fall considerably if they falter against WVU.
Despite West Virginia’s reputation as a Big East powerhouse, all indications point to a down year for Huggins’ squad. They’re playing .500 basketball going into conference play, and their schedule won’t get any easier.
The Wolverines would be wise to shut the door on any Mountaineer upset early on and run them out of Brooklyn.
If that is Saturday's result, the whispers about Michigan being a Final Four contender would turn into real conversation this December.
West Virginia Player to Watch: Gary Browne, G
The Mountaineers will need points to keep up with the Wolverine barrage of three-point shooters and Browne is their best counter.
The three-point marksman from Puerto Rico has had a rough start shooting the basketball, though. He’s only 11-for-38 from the field, with only three treys to boot.
West Virginia, has had trouble putting the ball in the basket this month and that won’t turn if they don’t play inspired basketball against Michigan.
Browne will provide the spark if he can have the hot hand early on.
Michigan Player to Watch: Trey Burke, PG
Even with a Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson on the roster, the Wolverines go as their floor general goes.
Burke has started his sophomore campaign as a dark-horse contender for Player of the Year honors. The do-it-all point guard has been shooting 51 percent from the field, not to mention a 38 percent clip from behind the arc.
He isn’t just making plays for himself, though. Burke knows when to feed the rock as well, with almost seven assists per game and a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. He will need to continue getting his teammates involved, as usual.
Playing in Brooklyn, this Wolverines team may be distracted by the big arena away from home and pressured by their high ranking.
Burke will need to be the calming force both on the court and in the huddle to avoid an upset alert.
Key Matchup: The Battle in the Paint
One advantage the Mountaineers should have over their highly-ranked opponent is on the glass. The Wolverines rank 86th in the country in rebounds per game, whereas West Virginia comes in averaging three more total boards per game.
Glenn Robinson III is currently the Wolverines' best rebounder, but he only stands at 6'6". While the “Big Dog’s” son can have his way in the paint, the Mountaineers have the size to hold a distinct advantage.
If Huggins can get his experienced bigs Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray to exploit their size on paper, the Mountaineers can make this a competitive game in Brooklyn.
Prediction: There’s a talent discrepancy on one side, though, and it’s not in the Mountaineer's favor. The Wolverines win a tight game in the final five minutes.
Michigan 72 West Virginia 67
Mike Shiekman is a Breaking News Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow his college basketball musings and thoughts on the world @TheRealShiek
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